Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Are There No Bad Children, Only Bad Parents?

This is an excellent New York Times article, arguing against the prevailing assumption among parents that, if our children go wrong, we must have raised them wrong.

Besides parental influences on children, there are outside influences (friends and media), genetic tendencies, and personal decisions. While some parents should obviously shoulder the blame for an errant child, in whole or in part, it's not always the parent's fault.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Manning Wins While Losing - Resisting Bitterness

Here's another Super Bowl related story you could use to reinforce character traits like overcoming bitterness, forgiveness, self-control and endurance.

Manning Wins While Losing

No, I’m not talking about Peyton Manning losing in the 2010 Super Bowl. I’m talking about his dad - the motivational force behind his unusually successful sons.

Do you ever get bitter about life, playing the “what if” game?

• What if I’d worked for a winning company instead of this losing one?
• What if I’d worked in a different industry?
• What if I’d gone to a better school and played on a better team?
• What if I’d married this person instead of that one?

Archie Manning, father of successful athletes Cooper, Peyton and Eli Manning, was a great quarterback who played for mediocre teams. Stellar quarterback Roger Staubach once said, “If Archie Manning had played for Dallas, he’d be in the Hall of Fame now.” According to Archie, “in terms of real achievement, it was mostly an unfulfilling career.” His teams consistently lost. (1)

And losing teams breed frustrated, angry fans. It got so bad in the stands that his sweet wife, Olivia, stopped sitting with her friends at Saints games. She couldn’t take the brutal jeers at her husband. “Archie can take it, but I can’t,” she admitted. (2) But even after she moved to more inconspicuous seats, she heard shrill voices booing behind her and turned around to discover that it was her own sons! Cooper and Peyton, at ages seven and five, had politely asked their dad if it was okay for them to boo with the others. They also asked if they could wear brown paper bags over their heads like the other disgusted fans. (3) Toward the end of Archie’s career, Olivia stopped attending altogether. (4) Cooper and Peyton often watched their favorite teams on TV instead of their dad’s. (5)

As an adult, Peyton summed up his dad’s football career as “fifteen years of professional frustration.” (6) Although he worked as hard as anybody and played his heart out at games, his teams simply never got it all together.
So maybe you’re a dedicated salesman, stuck with a losing company. Or a first rate basketball player stuck with an unmotivated team. Or a highly skilled teacher, working at a school that doesn’t appreciate your contribution. Do you become bitter? Do you take your frustration out on others?

Here’s how Archie handled it:

1. He never took his frustration home. When he came home from a terrible loss, he was just good old dad, playing ball with his kids on the carpet and enjoying his dear wife. According to Cooper,

“Yes, when the booing got really bad at the Superdome, Peyton and I wanted to boo, too…and we wanted to wear the bags over our heads. But through all that, I never remember him bringing his defeats home with him. Not ever.” (7)

2. He embraced the community that booed him. As Jesus put it, “love those who hate you.” Rather than retreating inward and snubbing the community, he gave back to them, serving on the boards of a half dozen charities. Olivia also involved herself in the community. (8)

3. He refused to let bitterness take hold. Archie couldn’t understand players who, five or ten years after their pro football days, still bristled with bitterness - mad at their coaches, mad at the team owners, rooting against their former teams. Archie chose a different perspective, thanking God for every game he played, refusing to let the lack of winning ruin his enjoyment for the sport. (9)

4. He looked forward rather than backward. “I repeated the line often to myself those last few years: ‘Never look back. Never.’ And I haven’t. When I finally left the Vikings, it was an upper instead of a downer, a plus instead of a minus. Good-bye football, hello rest of my life. And hello Cooper, Peyton, and Eli, and the football I would enjoy through them. A whole new world.” (10)

And I’ve got to wonder, had Archie brought his frustrations home and taken them out on his family, might his children have gotten turned off to football or achievement altogether? Fortunately, he didn’t. He never pushed football on his kids, but Cooper became a high school football star, later playing college ball with Ole Miss until he was diagnosed with a serious spinal condition. (He followed his dad by refusing bitterness and moving on with life.) Today, Peyton and Eli are two of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, who fortunately play for winning teams.

Life got you down? Struggling with the unfairness of the way life’s turned out? Perhaps reflecting on Archie Manning’s response can help.

Sources: 1) Manning, by Archie and Peyton Manning, with John Underwood (New York: Harper Entertainment, 2001), p. 176. 2) p. 95 3) p. 96 4) p. 95 5) p. 96 6) p. 326 7) p. 142 8) pp. 143,144 9) p. 175 10) p. 177. Copyright 2/15/10 by Steve Miller.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Drew Brees and Peyton Manning on Character

Here's a Super Bowl story you could use to reinforce characteristics like compassion, friendship, priorities and acts of kindness:

Drew Brees and Peyton Manning: Winners On and Off the Field

A pro Quarterback is tough.

Physically tough: on every play, he’s the target of 300 pound defensive linemen whose primary goal in life is to plough quarterbacks into the ground before they can get rid of the football.

Mentally tough: drawing upon his knowledge gleaned from countless hours watching films of the opposing team, he knows that the position of that tackle typically betrays a blitz on a third down and short yardage. With the final seconds of the clock ticking away, he calls an audible – changing the play at the line of scrimmage to hopefully reverse an impending disaster. His words can’t be intelligible to the defense, so he yells it in precisely memorized code, like this Manning audible recorded live in a game - “deuce right 255 times block slant, h disco alert 12 trap…no!, no!, no!...alert 14 belly!”

But mental and physical grit doesn’t imply meanness. In fact, get to know the 2010 Super Bowl quarterbacks and you’ll find, not the men you’d most fear in a barroom brawl, but the guys you’d call for when you desperately need someone who truly cares. Let’s take a brief look at their lives off the playing field.

Peyton Manning will tell you up front that football is his fourth priority, tagging along behind God, family and friends. 1) And these aren’t just words he conjures up when he speaks at schools. He lives and breathes them. He called home almost every night in college, having a huge respect and affection for his parents and brothers. 2) His college town also remembers his numerous visits to children’s wards in hospitals and inspirational talks to school kids. 3) And he’s loyal to his friends – like Drew Brees, whom Manning, as a pro, befriended when Brees was still in college. Peyton called him regularly to encourage him. For Brees, Manning became a mentor to go to for advice. And who knows, perhaps that encouragement and advice gave Brees that little edge that allowed him to take the 2010 Super Bowl away from Manning. But hey, football’s only the fourth priority. According to Peyton, friendships trump sports. 4)

While many players spend their free time relaxing with video games or watching TV, Drew Brees is more likely to be found meeting with a group of community leaders, scheming ways to improve the lives of the less fortunate. According to Brees, “…this is my outlet. This is what I love to do.” 5) Beyond his vast service to the local community, he’s travelled to faraway lands like Afghanistan and Kuwait to encourage troops who risk their lives and miss their families.

Both run foundations, through which they funnel large amounts of time and money to worthy causes. The Brees Dream Foundation gives millions of dollars for cancer research, caring for cancer patients, helping children who face adversity, rebuilding schools, parks, and playgrounds. Peyton’s PeyBack Foundation gives millions to programs that assist disadvantaged youth.

No wonder Peyton received the 2005 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, which honors players known for outstanding volunteer and charity work. Brees received the award the next year.

Few of us can equal the performances of Manning and Brees on the field. But after all, football’s just a game, low on their list of top priorities. What makes their success more fulfilling is how they use their platform and wealth and time to help the less fortunate.

What can I learn from Drew Brees and Peyton Manning? Get off the couch; turn off the TV, and go make a difference in someone’s life.

Sources: 1) Manning, by Archie and Peyton Manning, with John Underwood (New York: Harper Entertainment, 2001), p. 362 2) p. 9 3) p. 7 4) Face of the Enemy, by Rick Cleveland, Clarion Ledger, 2/7/10 , Will the Student Take Down the Master? , Joe Fortenbaugh, National Football Post, 1/29/10. 5) Peter King, The Heart of New Orleans, 1/18/10, Sports

(Copyright J. Steve Miller, , 2/15/10)

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For more Super Bowl 2010 stories, see

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Will Smith on Work Ethic and Separating Talent from Skill

Want a great video for your students to motivate them to work hard at developing their skills? Show them this collection of clips by actor/rapper/film producer Will Smith. I've transcribed some of it below the link with an introduction you could use for the video.


Will Smith - successful rapper, actor and film producer - has achieved such a level of success that Newsweek called him "the most powerful actor on the planet." He has been nominated for four Golden Globe Awards, two Academy Awards, and has won multiple Grammy Awards. You may have seen him starring in Men in Black, I, Robot, Hancock, Hitch, Bad Boys, Pursuit of Happiness, The Wild Wild West and other hit films.

So is he just one of these naturally talented guys who can rehearse a couple of times and whip out a great performance? Not according to Smith. Listen to what he has to say about developing his skills.

Quotes from Will Smith

“The separation of talent and skill is one of the greatest misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel, who have dreams, who want to do things. Talent you have naturally. Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.

I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented. Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic. You know, while the other guy’s sleeping, I’m working. While the other guys’ eating, I’m working.

There’s no easy way around it. No matter how talented you are, your talent is going to fail you if you’re not skilled. If you don’t study, if you don’t work really hard and dedicate yourself to being better every single day, you’ll never be able to communicate with people - with your artistry - the way that you want….

The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is: I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. You might have more talent than me; you might be smarter than me. But if we get on a treadmill together, there’s two things: you’re getting off first, or I’m gonna die.
It’s really that simple."

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Life Lessons from "The Beatles"

With "The Beatles: Rock Band" all the rage for music video gamers, why not ride this wave of piqued interest to reinforce some character traits that propelled The Beatles to mega success? I think you'll find these stories useful in your classroom, home and work with youth in the community.

Below, you'll find a couple of motivational Beatles stories based on our research. Were they perfect moral examples? No. But to be fair, neither were most of the other great athletes and political figures and writers we revere. By telling the stories of what they did right along their path to success, we imbed memorable character motivators in the minds of young people. We're writing our illustrations primarily based upon our reading of one of the most respected biographies of The Beatles: Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation, by Philip Norman .

Press On Despite Criticism
(Beatles Succeed Despite Discouraging Comments)

Don't let discouraging comments get you down. Sometimes we simply need to ignore them and press forward with our passion.

Fifteen-year-old John fell in love with his guitar, playing it night and day. His Aunt Mimi, who was raising him, couldn't see the point of his obsession and would try to discourage him. Do you know what it's like to hear discouraging comments, over and over, from those you really respect and want to please? Well, John's Aunt Mimi put it it this way,

"To me, it was just so much waste of time. I used to tell him so. 'The guitar's all very well, John, but you'll never make a living out of it.'"

But John kept right on playing, putting his heart into the music he loved. In fact he grew up to play guitar, sing and write music with one of the most popular bands ever - The Beatles. That's right, that 15-year-old boy was John Lennon. And yes, Aunt Mimi, he did manage to eek out a living with the millions he made from that guitar.

Aunt Mimi wouldn't be the last to put down The Beatles along the way. Here were some other negative comments they endured:
  • While John attended Art College, he, Paul and George played together but apparently weren't very good. A member of another band suggested that they "weren't worth a carrot." (p. 68)
  • They managed to get a gig playing between sets at a club, but were so bad that they were ordered off stage after two songs. (p. 69)
  • When they decided to change their name to The Beatles, their promoter assured them that nobody would ever take a band with that name seriously. (p. 74)
  • They auditioned for a recording contract with Decca, but were turned down. Bands with guitars "were on the way out," the experts at Decca explained. (p. 144)
  • Their relentless manager, Brian Epstein, approached every record label he could find in the catalogue, only to be rejected at every turn. (pp. 146, 152)
  • When they finally landed a contract, it was with a small label with a mediocre track record, obligating the label to pay the band and Epstein a mere penny per album sold. (pp. 154-158)
But The Beatles kept playing despite all the negative comments and rejections, becoming so wildly popular that they sold more albums in the United States than any other band or artist. Almost four decades after their breakup in 1970, their fan base continues to grow through games like The Beatles: Rock Band.

[Copyright December, 2009, J. Steve Miller and Legacy Educational Resources ( ). Feel free to post with this attribution. Not for resale. Sources: Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation, by Philip Norman (New York: MJF Books, 1981) p. 35; Wikipedia, The Beatles.]


1) Why do you think Aunt Mimi tried to discourage John?
2) Why do you think so many people put The Beatles down and failed to recognize their talent?
3) When should we take criticism to heart?
4) When should we move forward in spite of criticism?
5) In what area of life do you need to move forward, despite discouraging comments?

Don't Let Poverty and Bad Breaks Define You
(Lennon and McCartney Endure)

Some kids seem to get all the breaks. Not only do they get the coolest and most expensive gifts for Christmas and birthdays, but they also get those little extras to give them the edge in life – like the best guitars, professional athletic equipment, or expensive lessons from the pros. How can regular young people – those whose parents struggle just to put food on the table – compete with that?

Well, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the chief songwriters and vocalists for one of the top-selling bands of all time, The Beatles, refused to allow humble beginnings to get in their way.

John Lennon's Humble Beginnings

Let's take John first. Do you know what it's like to grow up without a dad? John's dad left his mom the year after they married. And he didn't just move next door – he sailed from England to America, putting an ocean between them! Soon his mom started a new life with a new man, but she didn’t bring her son into the new family. John was raised by his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George, although he had a great relationship with his mom and visited with her regularly (p. 18). But George died suddenly of a hemorrhage when John was 12, leaving him once again fatherless. (p. 23) Later, his real mom would be taken from him suddenly when she was hit by a car. (p. 56)

By age 13 John majored in troublemaking – ever in detention or the principle’s office. (p. 24.) But at age 15 he fell in love with the new rock and roll music he heard at night on alternative radio, with a very weak signal from the continent that kept fading in and out. Soon, he was pestering Aunt Mimi to buy him a guitar. When she finally gave in, he became almost attached to the instrument, strumming it endlessly. (pp. 34-36)

Not being able to afford lessons, his mom would teach him banjo chords, which he could play with the first four strings, leaving the final two strings untuned. He put together a band and they would practice standing in the bath because of the superior acoustics.

His poverty posed another problem - the only way to learn the words to the songs they wanted to play was to buy a record, but none of them could afford to buy records. No matter. John made up his own words to go with the tunes.

Paul McCartney's Humble Beginnings

Now let's look at Paul’s hardships. His parents worked jobs that didn't pay well, so that they could only make ends meet with both parents working. But when Paul was 14, his mom died of breast cancer, devastating both he and his dad. When Paul heard that his mom had died, he asked, "What are we going to do without her money?" (pp. 25-30)

Money Troubles for Their Band

In their mid teens, John and Paul began playing in a band together, called The Quarrymen, playing anywhere people would listen. But their lack of money continued to pose problems, such as:

When they went to electric guitars, they had no money to buy amps. If the organizers couldn't provide one, they'd have to settle for a crappy sound by hooking up through the microphone system.(p. 59)If they played a church event, the church would have to pay for broken strings. They lost an opportunity to be "discovered" when they entered a talent competition. After passing the local heats in Liverpool, they were invited to the semifinals at the Hippodrome in Manchester. It was their big chance to get on TV and let the world view their talents! But their poverty robbed them of the opportunity. They had enough money for the bus trip to Manchester, but had to leave before the evening finals, because the only bus home left before the finals. They had no money to book an overnight stay. (p. 59)

The Power of Perseverance

Many would have gotten discouraged and quit, assuming that only those with money could make it in the music business. But John and Paul kept right on playing and singing. It would take them five more years before they were able to cut an album and start to get some serious recognition. (p. 167) But perhaps, in the end, it was best to take the long, harder road to success. During those years of obscurity, they lost some band members but added George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Time on the road allowed them to sharpen their skills at writing, playing their instruments and performing, so that when they became famous, they were ready to take the world by storm.

Do money problems and family problems get you down? Do you feel everybody else gets the breaks, whether it be in academics, sports, music, or wherever you're trying to excel? The next time you feel discouraged, maybe you'll hear a Beatles song and remember that over 40 years ago, a couple of guys decided not to let family set-backs and lack of money define them. Instead, they co-wrote and published an astounding 180 songs, many of which are riding a new wave of popularity today.


1. What disadvantages did John and Paul grow up with? (poverty, loss of family members, lack of formal musical training, not being able to buy the records to get the words right, etc.)
2. Do you think their heartaches and struggles contributed to their ability to write heart-felt lyrics that so many people identify with?
3. What do you think kept them moving forward when others might have given up?
4. In what area of life do you need to keep pressing on, despite your hardships?

[Copyright December, 2009, J. Steve Miller and Legacy Educational Resources ( ). Feel free to post with this attribution. Not for resale. Sources: Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation, by Philip Norman (New York: MJF Books, 1981) p. 35; Wikipedia, The Beatles.]

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